On one side of the white construction paper, Ann Blessinger has
her students write "King of England," on the other, "colonists." The
assignment: Describe how each side felt leading up the Revolutionary
This is a lesson in perspective - it's easy to forget that there
are two sides to every story, she explains to the 7th graders.
The kids begin: Sad faces appear next to the colonists after the
Stamp Act; angry faces appear next to the king after the Boston Tea
Perspective is not a new concept to historians. But in this state
- where legendary outsized proportion and emotion dominate views of
the past - this is a radical step.
The old way of teaching the Texas Revolution - the freedom-
loving Americans against the tyrannical Mexicans, or good versus
evil - is falling by the way as fast as the myths surrounding the
With an increasingly Hispanic population, Texas school teachers
are feeling pressure to bring more perspective to state history,
which students must study in the 4th and 7th grade.
The battles that led to Texas' independence, for instance, are
still hard for Mexico to swallow: They eventually meant the loss of
half the country's land. And as the Hispanic population quickly
becomes a majority in this state, teachers, historians, and museum
directors are realizing that celebrating these accomplishments
without regard to their southern neighbors isn't cutting it anymore.
"The standard line we used was that we won and they lost; and no
one really questioned who 'we' was," says Angela Miller, manager for
social studies curriculum with the Houston Independent School
District and a history teacher of 20 years. "You can't do that
At Burbank Middle School in north Houston, Ms. Blessinger says,
"We teach a lot of kids who have just come from Mexico and many who
still have loyalties to Mexico. You do have to be very aware of who
is in your room."
She says she's careful to stress the Mexican Army's point of
view, and spends extra time on the important Mexican figures who
fought alongside American settlers - a concept foreign to teachers
just a few years ago.
"Students nowadays are more willing to challenge opinion
expressed in the classroom," says Ms. Miller. "That means we need to
prepare our teachers to respond to that challenge and not feel
threatened by it."
This kind of sensitivity to past struggles is happening all over
the country, says Adrian Anderson, a history professor at Lamar
University in Beaumont, Texas.
"We're seeing a kinder, more understanding treatment given to
matters like Reconstruction, the Civil War, and the Texas
Revolution," says Dr. Anderson, who helps revise Texas textbooks.
"We are trying to present a more balanced view of who we are." He
says it's commonly held in his discipline that every age rewrites
history according to the values and concerns of the time. "In
effect, that's what we're seeing here. Texas today is concerned with
matters of race and ethnicity and gender."
To understand why this is such a radical step in the teaching of
Texas history, one must first understand just how important a role
the past plays in the hearts of Texans today.
Unlike other states that commonly offer public school students a
year or less of state history, Texas requires two - in the 4th and
The state is littered with monuments, museums, and historical
markers of famous moments in Texas history. In typical Texan bigger-
is-better attitude, these were built to overshadow all else. For
instance, the 570-foot San Jacinto Monument - commemorating the
battle that ended the Texas Revolution - is the tallest monument
column in the world, higher than the Washington Monument. …